By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The most oft-visited venue in professional tournament fishing is set to host its annual derby, and some veteran competitors fear that the bad old days are back at least for this year.
Beaver Lake, which gets an FLW Tour event each year due to its proximity to the Arkansas headquarters of major sponsor Walmart, is a throwback to an earlier era of the pro game, when an average of 12 pounds a day was money in the bank and a 15-pound average likely garnered a hefty trophy and an oversized check for photographic purposes. Winning weights have been climbing in recent years (possibly due to some spawns that took place under extreme high-water conditions), but the general consensus is that the 59-07 total that Matt Arey compiled last year won't be threatened this time.
There are many thousands of bass on spawning beds all over the lake, but the vast majority aren't any bigger than the rats that can be caught on shaky-heads. Few believe that the tournament can be won by a competitor who sight-fishes exclusively, and weather conditions for that tactic will be less than ideal.
"I think the person who wins is going to have to find something else to do," said Brad Wiegmann, who's operated a guide service on the lake since the late 1980s. "Sight-fishing might be good for an early kicker, but there's going to have to be something else in the bag of tricks."
Before delving deeper into the bite, here's a look at the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake name: Beaver
> Type of water: Highland reservoir on the White River
> Surface acres: 28,000-plus
> Primary structure/cover: River channels, creeks, rocks, points, some standing timber and laydowns
> Primary forage: Crawfish, shad, minnows
> Average depth: Around 50 feet, especially on the lower end
> Species: Largemouths, smallmouths, spotted bass
> Minimum length: 12 inches for spots, 15 inches for smallmouths and largemouths.
> Reputation: Lots of small fish, often tough.
> Weather: Cool on day 1, then warming through the remainder of the event. Thundershowers are predicted for day 2.
> Water temp: Low 60s
> Water visibility/color: 6 to 10 feet/slightly tinted to crystal clear
> Water level: A little over full pool and rising slowly
> Fish in: 6 inches to 25 feet
> Fish phase: All spawn stages
> Primary patterns: Sight-fishing, crankbaits, jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, flipping, Texas-rigged plastics, shaky-heads, wacky rigs, swimbaits
> Winning weight: 52 pounds (4 days)
> Cut weight (Top 20): 21 pounds (2 days)
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 2 for Beaver
> Biggest factor: Big females on beds they're few and far between, but catching a 4-pounder could change the complexion of a day real fast.
> Biggest decision: Whether to specifically target bigger-than-average bites or work through numbers and hope to run into them.
Here's a good look at Beaver (depth contours included), courtesy of the folks at Navionics:
Big Mamas Still to Come
Opinions as to how much of the spawn has already occurred and how much remains vary a bit, but there's at least a general consensus that most of the big females are still in the pre-reproduction mode. The majority are unlikely to advance to the beds until the next full moon, which will occur during the first week of May.
"It's still a little early for 4 days of bed-fishing," Wiegmann said. "Someone who's been there a whole bunch and has experience on the beds might be able to catch them for 2 days, but then they'd have to turn around and put something else together."
Limits won't be an issue run-of-the-mill keepers can be seen and caught just about anywhere. Those fish won't be worth much in terms of money or Angler of the Year (AOY) points, however.
"Anybody who can't catch five on a Ned Rig or a shaky-head probably needs to take up golf," Wiegmann said. "The problem is that a limit of those fish might only weigh 6 pounds."
There are always some good bags caught up the White River, and Wiegmann anticipates that approximately a third of the field will head that way on day 1, with the remainder dispersing between the dam and mid-lake.
"Sooner or later, going up the river bites you," he said. "You can have 3 good days, but it takes 1 more day than that."
Following are some practice notes from a few of the anglers who'll compete this week.
"I think there are better ways to get consistently good bags other than sight-fishing. It sounds weird, but I think there's actually some post-spawn fish I've been catching some long, skinny ones out deep.
"There are fish everywhere, but the majority are 12- to 15-inch spots. I've got about about 20 fish marked on beds that are 3 pounds and up. I think the guys who are good at sight-fishing could definitely do well.
"I know pretty much where I'm going to start. I hit a place yesterday morning just to check it and it was really good. For sight-fishing I focused on places where most people wouldn't look, and I'm planning to leave those alone for as long as I can and just fish. I'll wait until the afternoon and see if I need a fish or two, but hopefully I won't."
"I really don't think I've got a winning pattern going and I don't know what to expect with the weather changing. There's plenty of bedding fish, for sure, and I could fall back on that and catch a bunch of those, but there aren't many females up there. What I saw in practice was mostly all males and with the cold coming, I don't anticipate many new females.
"If you can catch females other than sight-fishing, that might be the guy who wins. Sight-fishing might be a good supplemental pattern, but you're going to need some other way to win this thing and I don't have it.
"I did catch a couple of big ones just fishing, but I couldn't repeat it. I worked hard to expand that pattern but it just didn't happen."
Scott Martin thinks dialing in on the smallmouths might be the key to victory this week.
"To me, it's not fishing quite like last year or a couple years ago. It's not a real great pre-spawn bite and I think we're between waves of fish. I'll mix it up and try to catch a few off beds and a few running some other patterns as well.
"My gut feeling is it's going to fish like it did 5 or 6 years ago and be one of those low-weight deals. One thing that could dominate is the smallmouth bite and I completely missed the boat on it. With the storms and wind and rain that's coming, it could really set up for some of those guys.
"There's no chance it can be won strictly sight-fishing. There aren't many good ones up and there aren't new ones coming that I've seen. We're fishing for leftovers at this point."
"I didn't find anything I like. It seems like it's harder than it was last year for me, anyway.
"There's a lot of fish on beds, but I wouldn't consider any of them I saw worthy of wasting time trying to catch. With other methods I just caught a lot of little bitty fish. There was hardly any quality.
"I'm just going to have to put the trolling motor on high and cover water and hope I get lucky. I have one or two bed-fish that I may check, but if I have to do that, it means I'm having a bad day. I'm kind of hoping for cloudy, windy weather to give me a better chance of going down the bank and catching them."
"It hasn't been real good for me. There's a lot of shallow fish on beds, but you have to really hunt to find a big one and it's kind of difficult to catch good ones just fishing. It's the typical Beaver it's always tough for me to figure out exactly what's going on. This tournament has killed me quite a few times over the last 16 years.
"It doesn't look like we're going to have great sight-fishing weather and that could hurt and that could hurt people who spent all their practice time marking fish on beds. I think it'll be about half and half for me I don't ever go all-in on sight-fishing.
"There doesn't seem to be as many (spotted bass) as usual. If you can catch five decent largemouths a day, that should get you 10 pounds and you should be doing all right."
Top 10 to Watch
With the above in mind and more, here (in no particular order) are BassFan's recommendations for the Top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Clark Wendlandt The veteran from Texas seems to be fully recovered from last year's heart attack and brings some momentum in the wake of his runner-up finish at Lewis Smith Lake. His history at Beaver is long and success-laden.
2. David Dudley He's compiled a substantial percentage of his lofty career earnings total from Beaver and has been particularly good there recently with three Top-10s (including a victory) in his last four outings at the lake. It'll be a surprise if he doesn't advance to the weekend.
3. Matt Arey Last year's winner bombed in his first appearance at Beaver, but has notched three Top-5s since 2008. He shows up full of confidence that he can catch quality fish somehow, and then he goes out and does it.
4. Shinichi Fukae With the exception of a bomb at Kentucky Lake last summer, he's been remarkably consistent for the last 2 full years. The 2006 Beaver winner hasn't made a Sunday appearance in a Tour event since 2012, so he's overdue.
Rogers, Ark. resident Travis Fox was finally took advantage of his local knowledge last year on his way to a 4th-place finish.
5. Travis Fox He's a local who continually bombed on his home water early in his career, but settled in well enough last year to log a 4th-place finish. His local knowledge allows him to predict what transitioning fish will do next and when they'll do it.
6. Troy Morrow The spotted-bass ace from Georgia will have ample opportunity to pursue his favorite species. If he can pin down some big ones and add a few kicker largemouths, he could find himself right in the hunt once again.
7. Mark Rose The Arkansas resident has made five consecutive Top-20s on his home-state impoundment a run of success that includes a runner-up finish. He's gained acclaim in recent years for developing a stout offshore game, but he can pull them off the beds as well.
8. Andy Morgan He has a pair of 2nd-place finishes at Beaver in his last three times out and, simply put, it's somewhat of a stunner with the two-time defending Angler of the Year (AOY) fails to make it to the weekend at any venue. His instinctive approach to fishing is well-suited to this fickle lake.
9. Bryan Thrift It's been well over a calendar year since he's posted a finish below 26th in any event and his strong record at Beaver includes a win in 2011. His propensity to cover water at break-neck speed usually aids him at this venue.
10. Wesley Strader A 30th at Beaver last year is the current AOY leader's worst showing in his last six events. His record at the lake is somewhat of a mixed bag and there have been some triple-digit placements, but he ends up with a good check more often than not.
Anglers will take off from the Prairie Creek Park Marina (9300 N. Park Road, Rogers, Ark.) at 6:30 a.m. CT each day of competition. Thursday and Friday's weigh-ins will be held at Prairie Creek Park beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sundays weigh-ins will be held at the John Q. Hammons Center, (3303 Pinnacle Hills Parkway, Rogers) beginning at 4 p.m.
> Like many in the field, Luke Clausen and Jay Yelas had difficulty locating quality fish during practice. For summaries of what they learned over that 3-day period, click here.
> Thurs., April 23 Cloudy - 60°/50°
- Wind: From the E at 12 mph
> Fri., April 24 T-Showers - 70°/63°
- Wind: From the SSE at 14 mph
> Sat., April 25 Partly Cloudy - 77°/49°
- Wind: From the WSW at 15 mph
> Sun., April 26 Partly Cloudy - 77°/55°
- Wind: From the E at 11 mph